Minnesota is rightfully lauded as a leader in supporting artists and the arts ecosystems in which they work. The McKnight Foundation plays an important role in sustaining this leadership and continuing to advocate for and support working artists.
McKnight values the overall health of the arts sector in Minnesota. Within that sector, our program focuses specifically on working artists and the organizations and systems that help them advance artistically and professionally. This focus reflects our long-term interest in supporting working artists, which includes the creation of the McKnight Artist Fellowships in 1981.
Support for working artists has been a mainstay of the Arts program since it began. In 2010, following a comprehensive program and sector evaluation, McKnight's board of directors decided to focus on impact at the source: the artists. By ensuring that Minnesota is a place that artists choose to live and work, McKnight improves the quality of life, quality of community, and quality of opportunity for all Minnesotans.
Our current grantmaking supports organizations that value working artists. It is guided by three interrelated concepts: research on artist support structures, our arts program logic model, and our arts program theory of change.
Artist Support Structures
Data undergirding our work in the arts comes from a landmark survey for the Urban Institute report, Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists
. The study surfaced how society undervalues the contribution of artists to community. It found that "96 percent of respondents said they were greatly inspired and moved by various kinds of art" but "only 27 percent of respondents said that artists contribute 'a lot' to the good of society." We utilize the support structure model as a tool in guiding our grantmaking.
In addition to providing fellowships and other re-granting to working artists through our key partners, a strategic role of the arts program is funding nonprofit arts organizations across many disciplines, which comprise an important part of the support structures for working artists. These organizations provide:
- Training and professional development: Conventional and lifelong learning opportunities.
- Validation: The ascription of value to what artists do.
- Demand/markets: Society’s appetite for artists and what they do, and the markets that translate this appetite into financial compensation.
- Material supports: Access to the financial and physical resources artists need for their work: employment, insurance and similar benefits, awards, space, equipment, and materials.
- Networks and community: Inward connections to other artists and people in the cultural sector; outward connections to people not primarily in the cultural sector.
- Information: Data sources about artists and for artists.
Our logic model is the practical map from our two strategies, through our program's many activities (including but not limited to grantmaking), and ultimately to the outcomes our arts program strives to achieve. Grantmaking is included, but it is only one of several other important resources that we deploy, such as convenings, policy work, research, and relationship building.
Theory of Change
A final lens through which to view our approach is a theory of change. Our arts program theory of change is rooted in a mutually beneficial cycle in which artists contribute artistically, socially, culturally, and economically to a thriving Minnesota, while the state and its communities create the opportunity for working artists to thrive artistically and professionally. It has four main elements.
Artists. Working artists are the core of a thriving arts sector. As creators, innovators, and leaders, Minnesota’s working artists are the primary drivers of exceptional and diverse artistic production in Minnesota. Working artists contribute most when they have the ability to advance artistically and professionally.
Arts organizations. Arts organizations play a fundamental role in ensuring that working artists advance artistically and professionally. Arts organizations play a crucial role in fostering and amplifying the work of artists. They directly assist artists and provide the necessary elements of a functioning system of support. (see support structures or link it again).
Local communities. Artists and arts organizations strengthen their communities and the state artistically, socially, culturally, and economically. Artists portray values and traditions, create and nurture cultural identities, engage communities, imagine solutions and catalyze social change. Artists and arts organizations contribute significantly to the economy of communities and the state through employment in the arts and by attracting people and businesses to vibrant communities.
Minnesota. Strong communities and a thriving state enhance the ability of artists to succeed and contribute. The ability of a community or a state to attract and retain artists can be seen as a barometer of its overall economic, social, and cultural health. State and local policies, education systems, investments in cultural institutions — and the broader economy — all contribute to artists’ ability to sustain themselves through their creative work and have what they need to create and share it.